Monday, October 22, 2007

Arctic Alaska villages caught in slow-motion disaster onslaught

Coastal Alaska is feeling the effects of a warming climate. Some villages are considering relocation. Here are some projected costs to move:

• Newtok, $412,000 per person.

• Shishmaref, $330,000 per person.

• Kivalina, $330,000 per person.

I thought, "That's a lot of money! I would rather have cash than a relocated village - I could build a cabin upriver and buy a house in Anchorage, too."

My wife agrees that (hypothetically) the cash would be a better deal. Can you blame us? Our family of 5 would get a $1.5 million windfall. What would you do?

Out in remote "Bush" Alaska villages, the federal and state governments have built runways, clinics, schools, homes, and subsidized local government and corporations. Many villages have little or no tax base and their real subsistence is living on the dole. So it is no wonder that the vocal majority want to move their communities and expect government to foot the bill. The village of Newtok is the prime example.

Having lived in coastal Alaska for 10 years doesn't make me an expert on rural and Native issues, but living in the Washington DC Metro area for 23 years makes me qualified to spot a waste of government money. Do we spend millions to rebuild entire communities every 50 years as sea levels rise and permafrost melts? Do we relocate an entire coastal population at the expense of taxpayers who live 1,049 miles away?

Disclaimer: I'm a leftist wacko who supports Kucinich for President. I am happy to give a disproportionate share of state revenues to support rural education, electrification, and sanitation. I think public health care and welfare are the duties of an educated citizenry. I support alternative energy research and eliminating dependence on fossil fuels. And I think that all of the above are good long-term investments for society.

But moving entire villages is not a good deal for anyone. It is not a long-term solution. Better to face facts and realistically plan for the future. Moving 10 miles away and asking for government handouts makes no sense. Coastal villages will be facing climate change for the next two centuries and most do not have the economic resources to relocate every 50-75 years.

If a village cannot be self-sufficient, then it is time to 'close up shop' and stop wasting taxpayer money.

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